This past Friday and Saturday I attended THATCamp SE (The Humanities and Technology Camp, a fairly informal “unconference” that is held locally or regionally), and Sunday I attended virtually via the twitter feed and some public Google docs that were being created. So this week will be filled with “what I did and why it was cool for me”, with hopefully some “this might be cool for you to try as a classics teacher or researcher” added just for you, dear reader.
Friday was “BootCamp SE,” designed to provide hand-on skills training. This post is going to highlight the first session, an hour and a half spent “Visualizing Time and Space with Simile Widgets and Google” with Brian Croxall. Although he was prevented by some sneaky smart quotes from having a dramatic reveal at the end of the session, I came away with a great classroom assignment for any class working with chronologies or historic events.
Here’s what we did:
- Created a Google Documents spreadsheet and filled it with some data: a title for the event, start date, end date (if not a one-day event), longer description of the event, a link to an online image, longitude and latitude coordinates (grabbed from Google maps), and a broad category.
- Pulled up an html editor, cut and pasted some code that Brian had pre-staged for us, and put the web page online (we didn’t technically do all of this, but I did the parts we didn’t get to by myself in odd moments during the day today.)
- Profit! Okay, at least, Timeline! (Note mine is all about 1913, because I’m still deep in that Reacting to the Past game I mentioned the other week. Also it has a bug – the categories on the right sidebar aren’t showing, because I am not an Actual Rock Star. Yet.)
So, let’s say I was teaching a class in Aegean Prehistory and wanted to address the hanging points for the chronology. (I did an assignment like this as an undergrad, using actual graph paper, in a class taught by Jim Wright). Here’s what I’d do:
- Assign the students to collect the information needed for the Google spreadsheet. I might group them into teams – you all deal with Aegean artifacts found in Egyptian contexts, you all deal with radiocarbon dates, etc. This would be a homework assignment, with a reading list of print sources suggested (and places to look online to find artifact images to include).
- My “homework” would be to set up the Google spreadsheet and “invite” all the students, so they could add their events/artifacts. I’d also pre-stage the web page using the Timeline Simile scripts, and make it live on a web space.
- Meet in a classroom with computers, or ask students to bring laptops, and have them fill in the Google spreadsheet in class. I’d have the web page showing live, so that as students added events to the timeline they would show up one by one.
- I’d make the “how I did this” piece available to the students, so they could use the Timelines for future projects.
Brian has a tutorial online that you can use to teach yourself everything you need to assign a Timeline in a couple of hours, I’d say (maybe even less if you are already comfortable with Google Docs, editing html, and have a web space to put stuff up.) Others at the session mentioned that this might be useful for their dissertation research (keeping events in order and reminding oneself what was happening simultaneously), and as a spatial exercise (since the events have latitude and longitude, you can also produce a map of “events”). Would this be useful to you, in your research or teaching? Feel free to brainstorm in comments.